- Siblings Becca, Shane, and Sadie grew up in an abusive home. How did this shape them and their relationships with one another? How did it affect their lives and relationships as adults, even after their father passed away?
- After Shane’s death, Becca and Sadie learn that their brother had been keeping secrets from them. He hid bad things, like financial and marital problems, but also good things, like his relationship with Charlie and Leola. Why do you think he kept so much hidden from his family? How did Sadie answer that question for herself and make peace with it in the end? Have you ever discovered something surprising after the passing of a loved one? If so, how did you deal with it?
- Addiction touches many of the characters in the small town of Blackwater, either directly or indirectly. Hannah struggles with prescription painkillers; Henley grows up with an addicted mother in a family of drug dealers; Sadie witnesses the epidemic firsthand in her job as a social worker. In what ways, both obvious and unexpected, does the opioid epidemic impact families and entire communities?
- Haunted by the tragic death of his sister Emily and the loss of his young wife, Earl Sullivan tries to be a good person but sometimes fails. How did Emily’s death impact Earl? Was there anything he could have done to prevent his son’s crimes? Do you think his failures outweighed his good intentions? In the end, what drove him to take his own life?
- When Henley gets involved with Jason Sullivan, she has no idea that the relationship will become abusive. Did her situation make her more vulnerable to Jason’s controlling nature, or do you think anyone could have been susceptible to his manipulations? What tactics did he use to gain control? What were some of the early warning signs that Henley missed or disregarded?
- Sadie and Hannah are unlikely friends. What draws them together before and after Hannah’s daughter’s disappearance? How does Hannah’s addiction affect their friendship? How do they help each other heal?
- With some amount of closure in Shane’s case, Sadie seems to accept the fleeting nature of life, stating, “This dog might yet outlive me.” Determined to make the most of the time she has, she opens herself up to new dreams and new relationships, including a romance with Theo, Shane’s childhood friend and Gravy’s veterinarian. What role did Shane’s dog Gravy play in helping Sadie and her family navigate life without Shane and come to terms with his death? How is Sadie’s relationship with Theo different from her relationship with her ex-husband, Greg? Do you foresee a happy ending for her?
- At the end of the novel, Henley has left everything behind and started a new life, just as she’d always dreamed. Still, she brings one piece of Blackwater with her: Her new name is Emily, after Emily Sullivan. What significance did Emily have in Henley’s life? Do you think Henley will truly be able to escape her family and her past? How will Missy and Charlie move forward without her? How do you think Shane would have felt about Henley’s efforts to give closure to his family?
- What was your interpretation of the novel’s title and did its meaning change for you over the course of the book?
The Weight of Blood
1) The novel alternates between narrators, giving us many of the characters’ perspectives but mostly going back and forth between Lila and Lucy. Did you find this multiple-voice narrative effective? Could the story have been told successfully in one voice?
2) How do you interpret the relationship between Crete and Carl? Carl consistently turns a blind eye toward Crete’s questionable behavior. Do you think this is a weakness of Carl’s character, or do you believe that Carl is rightly loyal to his brother? If you were Carl, how would you have handled your relationship with Crete?
3) Lucy carries around Cheri’s necklace throughout the novel, a broken blue butterfly, until she leaves it with the flowers in the cave. Discuss the significance of the necklace.
4) The novel is set deep in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Describing the valley where her family first settled, Lucy tells us, “What was left of the homestead now was a cluster of tin-roofed out-buildings in various states of decomposition, a collapsed barn, a root cellar with its crumbled steps leading into the earth, and the stone foundation and chimneys of the main house. Walnut trees had sprouted in the spaces between the buildings.” Discuss the role the setting plays in the novel.
5) Both Lila and Cheri were treated poorly by the people of Henbane. Did they have similar qualities that made them easy targets? Discuss how superstitions played a role in this.
6) Why do you think the town turned a blind eye to Crete’s behavior and illegal activities?
7) What do you think about Ransome? Do you agree with her actions? Do you think she could have done more to help Lila?
8) Discuss the book’s title, The Weight of Blood. Ultimately, what does the novel have to say about “blood,” and the meaning of family? Did your interpretation of the title evolve from the beginning to the end of the novel? If so, how?
9) The Weight of Blood ends with Lucy and Daniel together on a blanket, lost in their own world. Lucy tells us, “I let myself get lost in the moment, looking neither forward nor back, seeking nothing absent but embracing what was right in front of me.” How does this ending resonate with the rest of the story, and the struggles Lucy has had to face?
10) At the end of the novel Lucy says that she is “done waiting for ghosts.” Do you think she will be able to walk away from her “ghosts” forever? Discuss whether or not you think it’s possible to truly put away the past.
1) How has Arden’s past shaped her into the person she is at the beginning of the novel?
2) The novel is set in Keokuk, Iowa, a town on the Mississippi River. At one time, it was a prosperous town, but now many of the beautiful homes are neglected and deteriorating. How does the setting contribute to the overall story?
3) Arden’s mother had warned her that it was a mistake to go back to Arrowood, saying it was best left in the past, and if Arden was smart she’d “pray for an electrical fire and a swift insurance payout.” But Arden insists that she “had loved this house beyond reason, had felt its absence like the ache of a poorly set bone.” Discuss the role that the house plays in the novel.
4) To cope with the tragedy of the past, Arden’s mother rewrites history, pushing down her emotional pain and refusing to acknowledge the family’s loss. Toward the end of the novel, Arden says, “I couldn’t cauterize my wounds as my mother had done.” Can you relate to this coping mechanism? Compare and contrast Arden’s way of dealing with painful memories with her mother’s.
5) There’s a saying that you can’t go home again. What do you think it means? How does this apply to Arden’s situation? What do you think of her decision to stay in Keokuk and let go of Arrowood?
6) When asked why solving the mystery of the twins’ death was important to him, Josh says, “It’s like a riddle…I hate not knowing the answer.” In what ways has Josh’s past shaped who he is as an adult? Do you think Josh’s and Arden’s analagous childhood experiences affected them in similar or different ways? How does Josh’s work with his website, Midwest Mysteries, compare to Arden’s thesis project?
7) Who is responsible for the death of the twins, in your opinion?
8) Describe the relationship between Arden and Ben? Did the way it evolved in the novel surprise you? What did you expect to happen between them? Did your feelings about Ben’s mother, Mrs. Ferris, change over the course of the novel?
9) In what fundamental ways has Arden changed by the end of the novel? Do you think she will finally be able to move forward?
10) What did you think of the book’s surprise ending? (Was it a surprise?)
11) Discuss the role of memory in the novel. How are memory, truth, and nostalgia (“the bittersweet longing for a time and place left behind”) intertwined, and what impact do they have on the present-day lives of the characters? If Arden were to rework her thesis for graduate school, what would she write?